Guide your employees to better performance


Guide your employees to better performance

You may be a great horse handler, but are you as deft with your staff members? Learn to present your expectations clearly and address performance problems humanely.
Feb 01, 2006

SO YOU'VE FOUND THE PERFECT TECHNICIAN, and things are going great. Then, a few months go by, and her performance starts to slip. She's late to work, calls in sick, doesn't follow directions well, and falls behind on her duties during your appointments. Unfortunately, you're likely more comfortable managing that horse you're vaccinating than that employee who's digging through the truck, looking for the syringes you asked her to pack earlier. But part of your job as a practice owner is to manage your staff members' performance.

To do that, you need to explain your expectations clearly. Then, when a problem comes up, you need to address it promptly—and document your conversation so there's a clear paper trail if you ever reach the point that you need to terminate an employee. After all, says Dori Villalon, executive director of the Cleveland Animal Protective League, "Conversations that weren't documented didn't happen." Here's a closer look at how you can better manage your employees' performance.

Setting expectations

Preparing a written warning
First, you must tell your employees what you expect. Your best strategy: Put your expectations in writing, says Villalon. At the Cleveland Animal Protective League, new employees sign an expectations document, which the Dumb Friends League shared with Villalon, among other human resources tips. The document says, in part:

The bottom line
We have the right to expect that you will attend work regularly, on time, and give a day's work for a day's pay as well as respond positively to direction, get along with co-workers and clients, and adhere to the policies and procedures of the Cleveland Animal Protective League. We have the right to discipline you if you violate this agreement.

You have the right to expect that the Cleveland Animal Protective League will provide safe working conditions, fair treatment, responsible leadership and consistent responses to rule violations. You have a right to know what is expected from you, as well as what the consequences are for not meeting those expectations.

In addition, all new employees sign a code of professional ethics, which outlines the organization's commitment to maintaining a professional work environment and a positive community image. By signing, employees agree to follow all policies and procedures, inform supervisors when policies aren't being followed, and engage in direct communication. "Not reporting violations is wrong," says Villalon.

Her employees also agree not to engage in malicious or speculative talk among co-workers. "It's unproductive, undermines our ethical standards, and won't be tolerated," she states.

She also hands out an employee manual that covers dress code, use of company vehicles, smoking rules, parking-lot guidelines, and other cultural points. While this level of detail may seem like overkill, Villalon says you can't assume employees know what you want them to wear, say, or do. "Tell them," she says.

Every job description at the Cleveland Animal Protective League includes the projects for which that position is responsible and lists measures of accomplishment so employees know what standards they're expected to meet. For example, the position of animal caretaker at an equine hospital might be held accountable for barn cleaning. The measures of accomplishment: timeliness, cleanliness, safety, and compliance with operating procedures.